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Russian Propagandists May Be Held Accountable for Genocide-sTUDY

33 Min Read

The European Commission plans to create a special court against Russia to investigate crimes committed in Ukraine.

At the same time, the International Criminal Court has been collecting materials on the crimes of Russia and its citizens in Ukraine since the beginning of the war.

Among those who may be charged in the future are not only the military and officials, but also journalists. Ukraine has already announced its intention to seek accountability for Russian propagandists.

“Nimage” ordered a philological study of the content of state media. Media researcher Nikolai Chikishev found signs of incitement to genocide in the words of pro-government propagandists. This is the first Russian-language study of its kind since the start of the war.

“I’m practically in the morgue, I can’t give comments,” Anton Krasovsky, the former director of the Russian-language segment of RT, complained to Layout, two weeks after his scandalous dismissal.

The cause of the personality crisis was a sharp reaction to the host’s statement on the air on October 20, where he said that Ukrainian children who believe that Russia has occupied Ukraine should be drowned and burned alive.

This broadcast became the apogee of all the hate speeches of Russian propagandists about civilians in Ukraine.

Since the beginning of the war, viewers have become accustomed to aggressive rhetoric on the air of federal channels, radio stations, and publications of pro-government media.

There Ukrainians are called “Nazis” and “minions of the fascist regime”, they say that they need to be destroyed , exiled , ” desatanized “.

Since the beginning of the war, Ukraine has repeatedly raised the issue that Russian propagandists can call for genocide with such formulations.

In addition, the Institute for the Study of War assessed the statements of Russian officials and journalists as “propaganda of genocidal rhetoric.”

What is genocide and who is responsible for it

The concept of genocide and the crimes included in it are given in the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. In addition, responsibility for genocide is established by the Rome Statute, which underpins the work of the International Criminal Court.

Both documents declare that genocide refers to acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, any national, ethnic, racial or religious group as such.

The list of such actions includes: killing members of the group; infliction of serious bodily or psychological harm; creation of conditions calculated for the complete or partial physical destruction of the group; measures designed to prevent childbearing; forcible transfer of children from one human group to another.

The International Tribunal for Rwanda has concluded that there is no set minimum number of victims required for a crime to be recognized as genocide, nor is it necessary that all of its victims be dead.

Also, the International Tribunal for Rwanda ruled that in order to find a person guilty of genocide or incitement to it, evidence of the existence of a formal agreement between the participants to commit genocide is not required.

International law punishes both genocide and conspiracy to commit it, incitement, attempt and complicity in a crime.

At the same time, the peculiarity of incitement to commit genocide is that it in itself, according to the convention, is a crime, regardless of whether real genocide follows it.

International law researcher Christine Timmerman Wiebke analyzed the decisions of past tribunals and found that the crimes of incitement to genocide are directly related to hate propaganda.

Such propaganda creates a certain climate in society that does not condemn, and sometimes even encourages, the commission of crimes against a certain group of people.

The components of incitement can be dehumanization, demonization, delegitimization, disinformation and denial of past atrocities, threats of violence and glorification of terror.

The latter can be expressed in perpetuating the memory of those whom the state calls martyrs, and financial support for their families. Both the leaders of the country, officials, and private individuals, for example, journalists and experts cooperating with the media, can be held accountable.

The head of the Center for Civil Liberties of Ukraine, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2022, Oleksandra Matviychuk believes that the words of Russian propagandists can also qualify under the article on incitement.

“The role of the so-called ‘journalists’ is extremely important here, who for all these eight years pumped people up with hatred and formed the image of an enemy from Ukraine and its citizens,” says Matviychuk. – In fact, this unprincipled work of people is a component of the military militaristic machine. It is they who tell people from the screens: “We need to kill them, burn them out.”

How propaganda panders to calls for genocide

To find out whether there are signs of genocide crimes in the words of Russian propagandists, “Nimage” commissioned its own study.

PhD in Philology, media researcher Nikolai Chikishev analyzed the statements not only of pro-government journalists, but also of Russian officials and experts speaking in the state media.

The study covers the first six months of the war – from February to July.

The subject of the analysis was news articles on the RIA Novosti and Russia Today websites, as well as TV talk shows Vremya Pokazhet, Evening with Vladimir Solovyov and 60 Minutes with Olga Skabeeva and Evgeny Popov.

A separate block of the study is also devoted to posts from the Telegram channel of Dmitry Medvedev, Deputy Chairman of the Security Council of the Russian Federation.

Given that he, as an official, broadcasts the position of the Russian state and is widely quoted in the pro-government media, he can also be ranked among the group of propagandists.

The study is a critical discourse analysis that describes how the ideological discourse in Russia is formed and what it consists of after the start of the war in Ukraine.

In addition, it answers the question why this discourse has become dominant in the Russian public arena.

As semantic points, the study examines, among other things, how the participants in this discourse — talk show hosts and participants, online media journalists, and government official Dmitry Medvedev — interpret the concepts of Russia and Ukraine.

In addition, the author of the study analyzes how the images of “we” and “others” are represented in the Russian public field.

The study showed that the ideological discourse in Russia completely deconstructs the image of Ukraine: TV channels and online propaganda media convince the audience that ” Ukraine is not a sovereign and independent state “, “Ukrainians are not a separate, established nation”, “the Ukrainian government is not legitimate”.

“Dehumanization, accusations of atrocities, encouragement of violence encourage the audience to take a certain position in the conflict,” the study says.


A significant part of the study is devoted to the question of how the subjects of discourse – talk show hosts and participants, online media journalists, as well as Dmitry Medvedev – form and formulate images of “us” and “others”.

The “we” category in the propagandist’s interpretation is Russia, while they endow “others” in a more collective way, which includes both Ukraine and Western countries in general.

The study analyzes the TV programs ” Time Will Tell “, ” An Evening with Vladimir Solovyov ” and ” 60 Minutes “, recorded after the first news about the killings of civilians in Bucha and after reports of a strike on a shopping center in Kremenchug.

Journalists of federal TV channels create clear images of “us” and “others”. “We” are presented as a creative beginning – white, and “others” as a destructive – black.

In their view, “we” are the victims, and “others” are the perpetrators of the aggression. The purpose of the “others” propagandists call the destruction of “us”. Vladimir Solovyov in his talk show says: “It is clear that the task is the complete destruction of Russia.”

Olga Skabeeva in the studio of the 60 Minutes program says: “They are enemies for us, and we are for them. It remains to be seen who will take it.” One of her guests says: “I don’t feel sorry for them. They’ve come to kill us.”

“We” as interpreted by the talk show participants are distinguished by moral rightness, which is unconditional and undeniable .

Any accusations against the Russian military are rejected and presented as unthinkable. Viewers need to accept this as a fact, without explanation.

For example, State Duma deputy Konstantin Zatulin, on the air of the show “An Evening with Vladimir Solovyov,” says: “I absolutely do not believe that military personnel, Russian servicemen raped in front of children, children in front of their mothers.”

This is how Olga Skabeeva, host of the 60 Minutes program, reacts to accusations against the Russian military: “The Kyiv regime shows the whole world bloody provocations, in which, of course, we are accused.”

Comparing the actions of “us” and “others”, journalists of federal TV channels present the latter only as irrational opponents. 

In the release of the talk show Time Will Show, host Ruslan Ostashko says: “When a representative of our Ministry of Defense makes a report and tells, when we show footage of our guys on the front line, there is some calmness and confidence that they are acting.

When we watch footage of Ukrainian servicemen, and it doesn’t matter who shot them, they either shoot themselves, or after being taken prisoner, there is no such confidence and understanding at all.”

The study also examines 30 articles on the websites of RIA Novosti and RT, published after reports of massacres in Bucha and the shelling of Kremenchug.

As the analysis of the notes showed, the images that journalists endow with the concepts of “we” and “others” repeat the examples discussed above.

In addition, the discourse in the notes of RIA Novosti and RT is built on the military confrontation between “us” and “others”: “we” can only attack on the battlefield and only military facilities.

When describing “our” actions, publications avoid language that can be interpreted as violence. For example, the attack on a shopping center in Kremenchug is presented as a “fire”, the building itself is called “empty” , no mention is made of the victims. In the case of the description of the victims, their existence is questioned.

Speaking of “others”, the publications try to form in the reader a strong association with them with the Nazis: the texts use propaganda ideologemes that refer to the Great Patriotic War: “atrocities” [of the Nazis], “Goebbels propaganda”.

New ideologemes appear in the discourse of publications that emphasize the illegal nature of the actions of “others”: “The West wants to make a new Srebrenica out of Bucha, said the Alpha veteran.”

The publications also emphasize the illegitimacy of the actions and statements of “others”: “the Kyiv regime”, “the assembly line is working”, “the Ukrainian military knows that the Western media will support any of their atrocities.”

Deputy Chairman of the Security Council Dmitry Medvedev in his telegram channel repeats the rhetoric of federal channels and online media. He unequivocally and directly formulates “our” position, presenting it as the only correct and rational one .

Against this background, in his interpretation, “us” is not to blame. Medvedev’s “our” values are a chaotic combination of “kid” culture rules and Christian ideologemes.

At the same time, “others” for him are evil and immoral a priori. He justifies violence against “others” with the right of revenge: “we”, in Medvedev’s interpretation, act on behalf of higher powers, which he associates with the Christian god.

Thus, all considered sources of information emphasize exclusively positive qualities of “us” and exclusively negative qualities of “others”, which indicates their social inequality and discrediting of “others”.

Russia Ukraine

The conducted research shows that propagandists at different levels formulate and present to the public the images of “Russia” and “Ukraine” using similar methods.

So, in all three talk shows – “Time Will Show”, “An Evening with Vladimir Solovyov” and “60 Minutes” – any accusations against the Russian military are called provocations and are rejected as unthinkable. At the same time, Russia’s mission is called confrontation with the West.

On the air of “Vremya Pokazhet” Russia is presented as a defending country, in the studio “60 minutes” speakers represent Russia as a winner. In “An Evening with Vladimir Solovyov” the idea is repeated that the Russian side adheres to the laws of war.

At the same time, the host and participants of the talk show say that there are serious problems in the Russian army, but do not name them.

At the same time, the theses about Ukraine in all three talk shows boil down to the idea that Ukrainian statehood and the Ukrainian nation do not exist, and the current Ukrainian government is illegitimate.

Program participants resort to dehumanizing the image of the Ukrainian military : in discourse they are described exclusively as “Nazis”, “rapists”, “maniacs”, “creatures”, “fanatics”.

So, in the issue “Time Will Show”, Ruslan Ostashko, commenting on the actions of the Ukrainian military, says: “The Nazis, following the tactics of scorched earth, destroy the infrastructure of the city”, “They continue to destroy everything that is possible.”

In the same issue, pro-government journalist Andrei Fefelov, speaking of Ukrainians, claims: “These are recorded Russians who call themselves Ukrainians.”

Political scientist Sergei Mikheev on the air of the talk show “Evening with Vladimir Solovyov” declares: “There is practically no Ukrainian state as such”, “Now all the scum from all over the world is coming to Ukraine.” And Solovyov himself says: “We know that the therodefence is famous for this, they shoot and kill peaceful people .”

Despite different informational occasions, the same conclusions and positions are voiced in all three talk shows.

The programs also show general strategies of representation: the presenter acts as a censor and controls what the speakers say; the host explains what any information that appears on the air should mean for the viewer; speakers complement each other with consistent statements and form a single, common point of view; the official position of the Russian authorities is never questioned.

In the notes of RIA Novosti and RT, as in the case of a television talk show, the position of the Russian authorities becomes the position of the publications, and the statements of officials are never questioned. At the same time, the media try not to give any references to sources representing an alternative point of view.

When mentioning the image of Russia in the texts of publications, there is no information about the actions of the Russian army, which can be interpreted as illegal.

The media claim that there are no casualties among the civilian population, even if this contradicts the logic of the narrative: in the case of descriptions of the events in Bucha, the publications simultaneously wrote about the dead with signs of recent death – and the “corpses” that were “moving their hands.”

The Ukrainian military is presented in the notes as radicals, and their actions are interpreted as terrorist. Often, the Ukrainian military is presented as “rapists” and “maniacs”, and their actions are called “atrocities”.

In the telegram channel of the Deputy Chairman of the Security Council Dmitry Medvedev , Russia is presented as a victim of the hostile actions of the West . At the same time, he formulates hostile actions in themselves as irrational.

Against this background, he represents Russia as a moral guide for the rest of the world. In his posts, the Deputy Chairman of the Security Council of the Russian Federation calls the authorities in Ukraine “an illegitimate regime”, and the Ukrainians themselves are presented in his rhetoric as barbarians ready to kill.


The analysis shows that the studied discourse is ideological and is used for propaganda purposes. In addition, the study examines how discourse expresses and reproduces power and how this leads to discrimination of an entire group – Ukrainians. In the analyzed specific topics, they are included in the concept of “others”.

Emphasis on supposedly deviant or criminal characteristics of Ukrainians creates and maintains socially shared racist and xenophobic attitudes in Russian society.

Each source contains extremely negative definitions of the group: “maniacs”, “creatures”, “fanatics”, “militants”, etc. In all sources there is a persistent association of the Ukrainian army/Ukrainian military with “Nazis”.

Based on the joint report of the analytical center New Lines Institute for Strategy and Policy and the Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights, the Nestka researcher identified four theses of Russian propaganda that are consistent with the Convention on the Prevention of Genocide and can be interpreted as calls for its commission. 

Among these theses:Denial of the existence of Ukrainian identity,a mirror accusation (the claims that the Ukrainian side also makes against Russia are returned to the Ukrainian side), “denazification” and dehumanization (creation of an association of Ukrainians with the Nazis), setting up the Russian audience to commit or approve of atrocities (the actions of the Russian army are never recognized as wrong or criminal).

The analysis shows that in the Russian ideological discourse there are indeed elements of a direct and public call (incitement) to commit genocide .

The subjects of ideological discourse are primarily responsible for this: officials – official representatives of the Russian state, employees of the Russian pro-government media, experts who cooperate with these media.

The established ideological discourse dominates the Russian public field, because the conditions for its development were artificially created: total blocking and large-scale repressions against independent media.

Moreover, if these artificial barriers are removed, according to the author of the study, the existing discourse will quickly fall apart and move to the periphery of the public field.

Which of the propagandists has already been tried for incitement to genocide

History knows several examples when the dehumanization of the image of the enemy and direct calls for its destruction led journalists to the dock on charges of inciting genocide.

The first known example is the Nuremberg Trials. One of those who were punished during the tribunal was the founder and publisher of the anti-Semitic and anti-communist newspaper Sturmovik, Julius Streicher.

He was executed for calling for the extermination of Jews (he was found guilty of a crime against humanity, the legal term “genocide” was enshrined in international law only two years after the verdict on this process – in the UN Convention on the Prevention of Genocide).

The second case when journalists became accused of crimes related to genocide is the International Tribunal for Rwanda.

There , for example, the publisher and editor of the newspaper Kangura (“Wake the Others”) Hasan Ngeze was in the dock . Articles in his newspaper presented the Tutsis as enemies and compared them to cockroaches, expressing hatred and contempt for them.

In addition, Ngeze acted as a journalist and expert on the air of the “Free Radio and Television of a Thousand Hills”.

It was this radio station that became the mouthpiece of propaganda, on the air of which they explained how to kill, dismember, rape the Tutsi people, and in addition, the lists of names were announced, who needed to be killed, and the places where the representatives of the Tutsis were hiding were named.

During the tribunal, Hassan Ngeze was accused of aiding and abetting genocide, including “by publishing articles in his newspaper Kangura”, and sentenced to life imprisonment. At the appeal stage, the term was reduced to 35 years in prison.

Ferdinand Nakhimana, co-founder and director of the Free Radio and Television of a Thousand Hills, was also found guilty of inciting genocide while “directly encouraging” the killings. 

He, like Hassan Ngeze, was sentenced to life in prison, but at the appeal stage, the sentence was reduced to 30 years.

At the same time , there is no statute of limitations in such cases, and the same journalists can appear before the court years after the end of the main process.

For example, the trial against the sponsor and co-founder of the Free Radio and Television of a Thousand Hills Felicien Kabuga began in The Hague only this year. Kabuga himself went into hiding for 23 years.

Back in 1997, the International Tribunal charged him with incitement to genocide and crimes against humanity. In 1994, he fled Rwanda and lived on false papers, first in Africa and later in France.

The media manager of the propaganda radio was detained in 2020 in the suburbs of Paris. Now he is 89 years old.

Can Russian propagandists be sent to The Hague

As we mentioned earlier, the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide singles out incitement as a separate offense that is independent of whether genocide was eventually committed.

At the same time, there have never been cases in history when incitement would be tried separately, without the fact of genocide having been established earlier. Lawyers interviewed by Nestka say that the case of Russian propagandists may be the first.

“I would not underestimate the importance of propagandists [for the International Criminal Court],” says Gleb Bogush, Ph.D. in law. – Formally, they do not hold government positions, they are not people who make decisions about attacks, bombings, invasions of other countries, but their responsibility can be very serious.

They play a significant role in the commission of specific crimes. Thus, public calls for genocide are an independent crime falling under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. Responsibility for this does not depend on whether genocide was actually committed.”

According to Bogush, the importance of the study of “Layout” lies in the analysis of textual propaganda narratives. This may be useful in further consideration of cases in national and international courts.

At the same time, the expert warns against a hasty legal assessment of individual statements by Russian officials – the likely trial will be long and will require serious work of experts.

According to Oleksandra Matviychuk, head of the Center for Civil Liberties of Ukraine, the hateful language of propagandists may indicate the presence of genocidal intent.

The search for this intent is one of the main stages in proving the guilt of a person or a group of persons in committing the crimes of genocide.

“When there is genocide proceedings, then, of course, one of the first people to be charged is a separate group that incites hatred and through which this genocidal intent can be traced,” says Matviychuk. – When on Solovyov’s show it is said that Satan has moved into Ukrainians, or recently the director of [Russian-language broadcasting] RT – already, as I understand it, a former one – said that Ukrainian children should be burned or drowned.

All such things are at least collected by human rights activists. I am sure that Ukrainian law enforcement agencies are also gathering, because they are needed for two reasons.

The first is incitement to genocide in itself a separate type of crime, and the second is that they help to prove this genocidal intent through the study of hate speech.”

How long will the trial in The Hague last?

The European Commission announced its intention to create a special court with the support of the UN to consider the crimes of Russia on the territory of Ukraine.

As the head of the EC, Ursula von der Leyen, said , a trial is necessary in order to bring to justice both specific perpetrators of crimes and the military leadership.

The degree of possible guilt of the Russian side is to be determined by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.

Its competence includes investigating and trying cases against specific individuals accused of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes of aggression.

The work of the ICC is regulated by the Rome Statute, an international treaty that establishes the functions, jurisdiction and structure of the court, which entered into force on July 1, 2002.

To recognize the jurisdiction of the court, the member states of the Rome Statute must ratify it. At the same time, neither Russia nor Ukraine did this.

However, Ukraine has accepted court jurisdiction over crimes committed on its territory since 2013.

As lawyers interviewed by Nestka explained, this allows court investigators to work in Ukraine and bring charges against those who committed crimes on its territory , regardless of the person’s citizenship and the policy of his state.

Now the work of the court remains at the stage of collecting evidence.

After that, ICC employees will have to form and bring charges against specific individuals, request the issuance of arrest warrants, summons to appear in court, and recognition of individuals as victims.

At the same time, anyone can become an accused, regardless of his position or the presence of any immunities.

Litigation can only begin after the court finds that the allegations are well founded. All this can take years.

“Whatever decisions are made, by and large, the issue of their implementation remains at the discretion of the parties.

There may be the loudest statements of international courts, but if the party to the conflict says that they will not comply with it, then there is no way to force it, – says lawyer Olga Gnezdilova. – As for the performance, we will have to wait for many years.

As it was in many armed conflicts: punishment is possible when people lose power. As a rule, this is the only way to somehow detain them, to bring them to justice.

While the situation is developing as it is now, of course, there is no technical possibility, there is no practical way to hold anyone accountable.”

As Oleg Gavrish, media manager and member of the working group on the creation of a special tribunal in The Hague, noted , the issue of initiating an international trial of Russian propagandists is still at the discussion stage.

Now, according to human rights activist Alexandra Matviychuk, the issue of accusing propagandists of inciting genocide is considered only at the level of national Ukrainian courts.

At the same time, Matviychuk is convinced that Ukraine will seek punishment for propagandists at the international level as well.

Adapted from verstka